“Use it or lose it” is not an adage that’s often associated with the brain; but, even if it’s true, cognition should not be the sole preserve of senior citizens
Cognition could be defined as all the mental functions related to knowledge, memory, language, reasoning, learning, intelligence, problem solving, decision making, perception and attention.
With age and/or because of disease, these functions may be altered or decline. Cognition is one aspect of brain health and it’s becoming increasingly well recognised that the development, function and health of this organ are all linked to our diet.
In fact, 13 vitamins, 15 minerals and trace elements, 2–4 essential fatty acids and 8–10 amino acids are necessary for good brain health.
In utero: the mother diet
It all starts well before birth: the mother’s diet during pregnancy is essential for the proper development of the foetus. It has been scientifically demonstrated that some vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to development issues and diseases.
The well-known vitamin B9 (folic acid) is very important in terms of closure of the neural tube and forming the central nervous system (CNS) of the embryo. During the perinatal period, vitamin B9/B12 supplementation may help to reduce/avoid the severity of any developmental damage done to the CNS.
After the baby is born, brain development continues to go through important phases of cerebral maturation. At this stage in a child’s development, diet will have a significant impact on brain health.
First, breastfeeding contributes to faster psychomotor development in young children and, the longer this happens, the better the child’s progress — especially if breastfeeding is exclusive.
The high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in mother’s milk is a major factor; fatty acids and omega-3s are involved in the neurotransmission processes, cell survival and neuroinflammation, with implications for mood and cognition.
During this transitional phase of growth and development between childhood and adulthood, an adapted diet is required for optimal brain health. It has been demonstrated in rats that a diet rich in fats and sugars may induce hippocampus inflammation that will disrupt the proper functioning of episodic memory.
As well as to avoid obesity, a diet that’s rich in fats and sugars must be restricted because of the damage it does to emotional memory. During adolescence and in young adulthood, diet-associated disorders may manifest as anorexia, bulimia or hyperphagia.
During the ageing of human adults, our diet should provide the nutrients necessary to ensure that the brain functions correctly … and enables our body to fight against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and stroke.
It is commonly accepted that a Mediterranean diet, coffee, black chocolate (in normal amounts) and 5–7 portions of fruit/vegetables a day are required to reach the recommended amounts of unsaturated fatty acids, polyphenols and other beneficial nutrients.1 If this is not possible, supplementation with the following nutrients should be considered.
If supplements can compensate for poor dietary habits, then nutrients of natural origin or, better still, plant- or vegetable-based ones represent an interesting solution — particularly for vegans. This is why Vidya Herbs has developed a dedicated range of botanical extracts.
Natural beta carotene is obtained from fungi and algae. Vitamin C is obtained from the amla fruit. A complex of B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B9) is obtained from a specific combination of guava, lemon and holy basil extracts.
Vitamin B9 is also extracted from lemon alone, and vitamin B2 from guava fruit alone. For minerals, iron is extracted from curry leaves, zinc from guava leaves and selenium from Indian mustard.